Maintenance-only budget expected today

March 07, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

The Baltimore City Planning Department is expected today to approve a six-year, $1.4 billion plan for physical improvements to the city that focuses on maintaining city facilities rather than on new projects.

The plan includes money for the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration at the Inner Harbor, bridge TC repairs, school renovations, street reconstruction, improvements to the water supply and dozens of other projects.

Victor L. Bonaparte, assistant director of planning for the Planning Department, which prepared the budget, described it as austere and said it is designed to preserve facilities and shore up neighborhoods rather than embark on grand newprojects.

"Basically, the program recognizes the fiscal constraints the city is facing, and we are trying to make those improvements that are necessary to strengthen and develop our communities as well as encourage economic development," Mr. Bonaparte said.

The budget offers a preview of theimprovements planned in Baltimore for fiscal year 1992, which begins July 1.

For example, the budget includes $19 million to begin the first phase of the six-year, $200 million Christopher Columbus marine biotechnology center, which will include research facilities and exhibition space on Pier 5 in the Inner Harbor.

The 1992 budget also includes $2.2 million for sidewalks and other infrastructure at the Nehemiah low-and moderate-income housing development in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.

The 1992 budget also includes money for design work for a new Northern District police station, which would replace the one built onKeswick Road in 1899, dollars to plant trees along city streets and to prevent sagging Federal Hill from sliding onto Key Highway.

The capital plan also shows changes in the way city officials believe various projects will be financed in the next few years.

Absent from next year's capital budget, for example, is money for the Baltimore City Jail, which last year received $1 million for roof repairs and other improvements.

City officials are banking on the prospect that the state will take over the City Jail as proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in his State of the State Address in January.

The capital improvement plan for fiscal year 1992 calls for $283.2 million in spending -- up from $252.4 million this year.

Mr. Bonaparte said much of the increase is to cover a $40 million expansion to the Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant in Curtis Bay. Baltimore County, which uses the city-owned plant, will pay for expansion because it needs extra capacity to accommodate population growth near Owings Mills.

In fact, most of the fiscal 1992 portion of the six-year budget is money from Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties for the city-owned regional water and waste water systems, and money from the federal and state governments.

Only $3.8 million of the fiscal year 1992 portion of the capital budget -- 1.5 percent -- would come from city general funds. Another 9.7 percent would come from general obligation bonds, which are backed by city property tax revenues, Mr. Bonaparte explained.

He said declining assistance from the federal and state governments is reflected in the budget. For example, while the city received $56 million in assistance from the state motor vehicle fund in the fiscal 1991

budget, it is expecting only $24 million for next year, he said.

Because of those cuts, city planners were forced to rein in hopes for more ambitious undertakings and focus most of the capital dollars on such practical items as roof repairs and other projects that would protect existing facilities, rather than building new ones.

Last Thursday, the Planning Commission heard recommendations for the six-year spending blueprint from the Planning Department staff, which has been gathering requests for capital projects from city agencies.

If the spending plan is endorsed as expected by the Planning Commission, it will be forwarded to the Board of Estimates. If it passes muster there, the plan will go the City Council.

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